Pennsylvania bill would reinstate turnpike toll collectors
August 4, 2020
Pursuit at the Pennsylvania statehouse would reverse action taken by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to eliminate nearly 500 positions. The move comes as the commission estimates a $100 million drop in toll revenues for 2020.
The Senate Transportation Committee voted 13-1 to reverse a decision made by the commission to permanently let go of 492 employees, most of which were fare collectors.
On June 2, less than three months after Gov. Tom Wolf furloughed workers because of coronavirus concerns, the commission voted to permanently eliminate the positions.
Tough decision cited
The decision was made despite assurances from the commission only two weeks prior that toll collectors would remain on the job through the collective bargaining agreement date of October 2021. At that time, plans were to completely switch over to cashless toll collection.
Sen. John Sabatina, D-Philadelphia, questions why the commission had to let go of workers when the neighboring states of New Jersey, New York and Ohio brought back their toll collectors.
“I would ask that at a time where our unemployment rolls are already at record numbers, and the Commonwealth is spending billions in unemployment compensation claims, we reinstate these men and women who were promised employment even once the pandemic was underway,” Sabatina wrote in a legislative memo.
Commission CEO Mark Compton told the Senate Labor and Industry and Transportation committees the decision to go ahead and eliminate the positions was tough.
“I want to be clear: The commissioners were loath to make such a decision at a time like this,” Compton said in testimony. “June 2 was a difficult day for all.”
He added that there were three factors in the decision: the impact that the pandemic has had on the commission’s traffic and revenue; the health and safety of customers and employees; and the operational challenges in a post-COVID-19 world.
“There will be no return to cash collections.”
The bill, SB1220, would mandate the turnpike to reinstate the same number of toll collectors with the same pay and benefits that were in place on June 1, 2020. The requirement would remain in place for the duration of the collective bargaining agreement.
Union leaders representing turnpike workers say they plan to sue state officials for unfair labor practices.